Record fine for Total following North Sea gas leak

Oil and gas production company Total E&P UK Ltd has been fined a record £1.125 million after it admitted failings that caused one of the biggest…

Oil and gas production company Total E&P UK Ltd has been fined a record £1.125 million after it admitted failings that caused one of the biggest ever gas leaks in the North Sea. Total admitted the leak happened after miscalculating a plan designed to ‘kill’ an unstable gas well on the platform. 

On 25 March 2012, there was a sudden and uncontrolled release of gas and condensate, which created a real risk of fire or explosion on the platform. All 238 personnel were safely evacuated.  The neighbouring platforms were shut down and a two mile shipping and aircraft exclusion zone was imposed around the Elgin. It took 51days for the well to be brought under control, allowing more than 6,000 tonnes of and gas condensate to be released, equivalent to more than 300 road tankers.

Total E&P Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 13(1)(a) and (b) of the Offshore Installations and Wells (Design and Construction, etc) Regulations 1996 and Section 33(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, at Aberdeen Sheriff Court.

The Sheriff’s court was told that Total had been experiencing problems of high pressure gas leaking into the affected well for some time. On 25 February 2012, the well suffered a series of casing failures, which Total correctly responded to by beginning a well kill operation on the 15 March. However, Total failed to identify and implement sufficient control measures and control of the well was progressively lost until, on the 25 March 2012, the well failed.

HSE Operations Manager Russell Breen, said: “This incident was foreseeable and entirely preventable. There were a number of failures on the part of Total, which contributed to the blowout. They failed to properly calculate the weight of kill fluid required; departed from the proposed well kill plan without considering relevant contingency arrangements and relied on an untested assumption that a sudden uncontrolled release at the wellhead could not occur. All of these contributed to them losing control of the well and the sudden uncontrolled release of gas.  Industry must learn from this, it is an important reminder of the ever-present hazards with oil and gas production and the need for them to be rigorously managed. This could have easily led to loss of life.”

Elisabeth Proust, managing director of Total E&P UK, said after the case: “We regret the gas leak from the Elgin platform in 2012 and accept the fine handed down by the court.  Following the incident Total carried out its own investigation to identify the causes of the incident and what can be done to prevent similar incidents in future.  We also cooperated fully with the investigations carried out by DECC and the HSE. Furthermore, Total has shared the lessons learned from this incident widely across the industry and with the authorities.”

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